Philippa’s smoking!

foodtravmenu-smokingbostonWHEN in Rome … and when in the USA, you definitely want to smoke pork ribs. Travelling chef Philippa Davis from Shaftesbury is currently in Boston and her latest postcard recipe is for her successful version of the classic hickory smoked baby back pork ribs.

As she says: Smoke gets in your eyes… so try it for yourself.

You might want to get your credit cards out now as you are all going to want one, or better still start rummaging round the tool shed so you can build your own – even though parents will advise you against it and it’s seriously addictive, It goes really well with a few beers (Ipswich Ale the choice here in Boston)

My first attempt at smoking pork ribs over here was OK. They were a little too lean to start and I don’t think I had quite become master (mistress) of the coals and wood chips so misjudged the heat and timing. Even though the results were not perfect it was an enjoyable experience. The second attempt however was the stuff food fetish dreams are made of and I can honestly say I am truly hooked.

With a great gathering due at the house I thought it was a perfect opportunity to do some more smoking and with my obsessive nature I decided to smoke as much as I could. Chicken, beef ribs, more pork ribs … sadly we didn’t catch any lobsters that day but they are SO next for this treatment.

Smoking food to cook it is a long process and although most websites recommend breaking open a six-pack while you wait I thought I would have a forage round the garden for some flowers for the house (far more ladylike.)

I am going to have a go at making my own smoker (regardless of the fact I don’t really have anywhere to put it – yet)! The contraption I am playing with in Boston is a hot smoker which cooks and flavours the food, but back in the day when I was cooking at Mudchute London City Farm in Docklands we built a cold smoker. These are used to flavour rather than cook food. The other chefs and I went overboard and experimented with everything. Some worked, some didn’t. Here are some of my notes form the time:


Butter – delicious

Strawberries – disgusting

Eggs – delicious

Milk – unusual

The point is, as I keep telling clients’ children, “you don’t know until you try” (although strawberries probably was a stupid idea).


Spice Rub and BBQ sauce with tips on how to smoke meat

Depending on what type, cut and size of meat you choose to smoke it can take up to 10 hours, so plan ahead. You will need;

Meat, rub mix (recipe below), BBQ sauce (recipe below), a hot smoker, charcoal for heat, wood chips for smoke – and a lot of patience!

A lot of patience

For any first timers – a domestic hot smoker will be a container that can hold heat/ smoke and food. It will generally have a fire pit at the bottom that you use to heat the smoker and to throw the wood chips on to create lots of lovely smoke, a dish for water to help keep everything moist, one or more racks to put the meat / food on, vents to control the temperature and a thermometer

We used charcoal for the heat.

I found the best temperature was keeping the smoker at 220 F/105 °C for the duration of smoking. Adjust the vents as necessary to maintain the temperature – closing the vents to suffocate the fire to drop the temperature and vice versa to heat things up. Check the temperature about every half hour and add more charcoal as necessary.

Wood chips – these get thrown on top of the coals to produce the tasty smoke, depending on their size and how quickly they burn throw on every half to one hour at about a handful at a time.

We experimented with hickory, apple and cherry – all delicious and sadly my smoke palate is not trained enough yet to “name that wood chip” but I am working on it. If foraging for your own wood chips use a hard wood like oak, beech or a fruit wood like cherry/apple. Do not use any conifers like pine/spruce/fir.

Also you obviously don’t want to be putting on any wood that has been chemically treated.

I soaked my wood for 30 minutes each time before throwing it onto the fire but there is a big school of thought that this is a pointless activity.


Smoking the Meat

Pork ribs – these have a very thin membrane that needs to be pulled off (found on the bone side) otherwise the smoke does not penetrate as well and it’s not great to eat. Slip a small sharp knife into the membrane at one end to help start with the peel. At least one hour before smoking sprinkle then massage the rub onto the ribs, about 1 tbs each side of the ribs should be perfect.

Spice Rub (enough for 4 big racks of pork ribs)

3 tbs fine sea salt

2 tbs dark brown sugar

2 tbs sweet smoked paprika

1 tsp mustard powder

1 tsp chili flakes

Mix everything in bowl and keep it in a jar for as and when it is needed.


BBQ sauce

This will make enough for 3 racks of ribs

100g streaky smoked bacon cut into small pieces

1 small white onion finely diced

2 peeled and finely chopped cloves of garlic

2 tbs olive oil

250ml ketchup

150 ml white wine or cider vinegar

200g soft brown sugar

50ml Worcestershire sauce

50ml whisky/ bourbon

3 tbs dark molasses

1 tsp salt

2 tsp smoked sweet paprika

1 tsp mustard powder

Fry the bacon, onion and garlic in a saucepan with the oil till sweet and translucent ( about 10 mins). Add the rest of the ingredients, bring to a simmer and cook for 20 mins. Cool then cover till ready to use. This will keep for one month in the fridge.


When you are ready to cook/smoke the ribs, heat the smoker to 220F (105 C) and place the ribs (rubbed with the spice mix) on the grill. Check the grill every half hour to see if the temperature is around 220F (105C). There is no need to turn or move them. Practice makes it easier to tell when the meat is done but you should be able to bend the meat and the smoky surface should crack, or you should just about be able to wiggle the bones. It is NOT like cooking pork belly where you can easily remove the bones when it is done. It should take between three and four hours if cooking at 220F but it will vary. When it is cooked brush it with bbq marinade and cook it for another 15 – 25 minutes.

Serve with piles of napkins.

For more on smoking beef ribs and a whole chicken, and more of Philippa’s postcard recipes visit